Film In Focus: ‘Where the Buffalo Roam’ and More

 

I never wanted to compare Bill Murray to Johnny Depp. After all, these are two different talents with two different trajectories. However, both actors have played Hunter S. Thompson in three different films.

Certainly Depp has the inside track, having been a personal friend of Thompson. And he certainly nailed down Thompson’s mannerisms and manner of speaking in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) and The Rum Diary (2011). But Murray seems to get to the spine of Thompson in what was his follow up to Meatballs, Where the Buffalo Roam, which was released to little fanfare in 1980.

And that’s a shame because Where the Buffalo Roam stands the test of time, all while revealing the activist slant of a previous time to a new generation.

Like Fear and Loathing, WTBR also has Thompson’s lawyer and spiritual advisor, Lazlo, portrayed as a character in the plot. Peter Boyle brings the special magic that made him the go-to supporting actor for unusual roles in the years leading up to Where the Buffalo Roam. And that’s not to take anything away from Benicio Del Toro’s take on the same person (although called Dr. Gonzo in that incarnation).

Long story short, Where the Buffalo Roam displays Murray operating on all cylinders, and it’s a preview of his movie-stealing prowess in films to come, like Stripes (1981), Tootsie (1982), and Ghostbusters (1984).

Frankly, as funny as Where the Buffalo Roam is, it’s hard to fathom that it totally bombed upon initial release.

Murray as Thompson deals with demands from his Rolling Stone magazine editor (homage in Almost Famous) while he also covers the Nixon 1972 campaign. Even when Thompson is kicked off the Presidential jetliner and onto the second-tier journalist airplane, he still finds avenues of anarchy.

Perhaps not oddly, Murray’s career after Ghostbusters saw him try straight leading man roles (The Razor’s Edge) and eventually co-starring roles working with renowned directors like Tim Burton in 1994’s Ed Wood. Murray’s biggest films of the ‘90s would be Groundhog Day, followed by 1998’s Rushmore, which took years to find its deserved cult status.

Back to Where the Buffalo Roam. Seldom has there been a marriage of absurdity and physical comedy the likes of which when we see Murray firing his trusty side arm into his fax machine. Murray’s dalliance with a nurse ranks amongst his best scenes. Peter Boyle also delivers the goods.

A featurette has WTBR screenwriter John Kaye laying bare the existential dilemma of being paid to be creative and yet hanging out with the ultimate enabler (Thompson). At one point Thompson had used his salary as seed money for a large cocaine deal and ended up doing most of it with Kaye and a few select others. When the dealers became threatening, Thompson tried to get producer/director Art Linson to advance him a high five-figure amount and got shot down.

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The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson: Johnny and Friends Featuring Steve Martin, Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy sums up this three-disc set with its lengthy title. Every episode unwinds in its entirety, including commercials.

Each disc has three shows with Martin, Williams and Murphy each. Martin’s appearances range from the mid-’70s to the early ’90s and include other guest stars like Jimmy Stewart, and in another episode, Sylvester Stallone. Williams also appears with Jonathan Winters in one episode from 1991. There’s little doubt that Williams was influenced by Winters.

Most telling are the Murphy guest slots, his first three times on The Tonight Show and all during 1982. Murphy had literally launched into the stratosphere as a leading actor that year in 48 Hours, and his three appearances capture him before, during, and after his instant stardom. On one episode Murphy leads the entire audience on a N-word chant that would just be so out of place in todays super heated politically correct environment.

 

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Dario Argento literally burst onto the scene with his debut feature, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, an Italian “giallo” genre thriller. It only takes one glance to realize that this film not only made advancements in its particular genre but also inspired such films as De Palma’s Dressed to Kill.

An American living in Italy (Tony Musante, quite convincing) witnesses an assault and becomes involved in the mystery. The local police pull his passport so he has no choice but to stay and comply. Eventually Musante is drawn into the killer’s complex web of deceit.

While Argento may have been a freshman director, he had previously worked as a writer on Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in the West. Argento’s artistic vision, along with his twists and turns, can only be overshadowed by such collaborators, also early in their respective careers, such as composer Ennio Morricone and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.

At times the tension becomes unbearable, as Musante constantly puts off having sex with his girlfriend (Suzy Kendall) so he can obsess over his eyewitness experience. The Blu-ray restoration at 4K helps define the mood with varied textures of interior darkness.

Great extras include new interviews with Argento; Gildo De Marco, a dude with an odd face (who appeared in a couple of three Argento films); a brand new audio commentary by expert on Italian giallo film, Troy Howarth; a thick sixty-page booklet on the film and genre; and “The Power of Perception,” a visual essay that takes the viewer up to date on Argento’s cinematic output.

A Quiet Passion unwinds with the unique pedigree of English art film director Terence Davies helming a story on the life of poet Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886). Dickinson wrote almost 1,800 poems, however, only a handful were published in her lifetime. In other words, how many poets are mentioned in Simon and Garfunkel songs?

 

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In the film, Davies introduces us to young Emily and her family. After a first act that displays Emily’s complete rejection of established paternal religion, we morph into the mature versions of the Dickinson family: Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson; Jennifer Ehle as her sister; and Keith Carradine as her father. Emily asks her father permission to write in the middle of the night and he consents, but later in the film a supposedly friendly femme companion admonishes bachelorette-verging-on-spinster, Emily, for doing something that no wife would ever dream of.

The arrival of the Civil War allows Davies to display his directorial chops, and the story allows Nixon to paint a complete portrait of a conflicted character.

One great extra has Nixon and Davies and two other members of the cast at a Q&A after the film’s NYC premiere at Lincoln Center. Another lengthy featurette has Nixon as a guest on a LGBT friendly radio talk show.

 

Film In Focus: ‘Where the Buffalo Roam’ and More syndicated post

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